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The Arlington Redevelopment Board earlier this month shared significant news about the 882-892 Mass. Ave. project, and, in a separate agenda item, the board members informally supported what they deemed a much-needed update to the design guidelines for the town.

Claire Ricker, the town’s director of planning and community development, spoke briefly Feb. 5 about the 21-unit mixed-use building at 882-892 Mass. Ave., which has drawn controversy concerning the size, and, to a lesser extent, the locations of the three affordably priced apartments within it. Other concerns are with relatively cosmetic aspects – colors, vents and so on.

Ricker said that she had been in contact almost every day recently with the developer, who eventually sent a photograph of paint cans representing the colors planned to be used to fix the paint job. Ricker also said that she had had a conversation about vent louvers with the developer -- who hasn’t come up with alternatives yet -- and will continue to push the subject.

Affordable housing

As far as the affordable-housing aspect – three of the units were assigned to applicants chosen via lottery in September -- as of the end of last month, the situation at 882-892 Mass. Ave. is now in the state’s hands, board members learned.

The building is next to TDBank, which is across from Arlington High School. The developer is Frank Pasciuto of Winchester, who has a number of projects in Arlington.Artist's representation of 882-892 Mass. Ave.

Ricker said that all the units in the building are too small, whether designated as affordable or otherwise. The town sent a 21-page regulatory agreement, dated Jan. 30, to the state government’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) for review. The intent is to see whether the units are essentially comparable functionally to what they should have been, even given their size, and therefore should be deemed acceptable.

In the initial version of the guidelines for the lottery application, the affordable one-bedroom units were described as having 700 square feet, but they actually are closer to 500 square feet. The guidelines were later corrected.

Ricker said she can’t predict what the state is going do, but she also said, “The state isn’t in the eviction business,” in regard to the status of tenants living in the apartments.

Design standards, Arlington Master Plan

In other business, also introduced at the meeting was an update to design standards for Arlington, which, according to the proposal, were “Created to enhance the economic vitality of the town through attractive and consistent design. They have been created as an outgrowth of economic development goals identified in the Arlington Master Plan (adopted in February 2015) that seek to identify areas of ‘economic underutilization.’ ”

The members all gave their opinions about this.

Steve Revilak said that when the town adopted the master plan, a lot of things within design standards were in the bylaws and that updating industrial districts, transit priorities, tree planting and so on was a good starting point in 2015. “A lot of this stuff is in our bylaws; now we can build on [that]. An update would be a useful endeavor,” he said.

Gene Benson said there were a couple of places where standards don’t match up with current bylaws but are okay, like setbacks on backs and sides. Benson said, “What I find, what we can do better on is what isn’t going to work. [We need to be] more explicit with those types of things. [We] don’t need to start from scratch, [just] update it. Overall, I think it’s good for a lot of things.”

Shania Korman-Houston said a marriage of bylaws and design standards would be helpful.

Kin Lau called the update a good starting point and suggested adding that the guidelines should include distinguishing designs the town encourages and discourages, what the bonuses are and how they can be used. Lau commented, “[I] thought we were going to be doing more of this stuff. [This is] what got me into the board.”

The chair, Rachel Zsembery, said some of the drawings need to be updated, such as with the commercial area, adding this was an opportunity to be more explicit with elements such as the kinds of building materials that should be used, and showing examples of what the board would or would not approve. Zsembery added, “[I] would be open to creative, vibrant options . . . be able to identify green building elements, ideas of what we’d like to see.”

The meeting lasted only about 45 minutes -- far shorter than many other recent meetings -- because no warrant articles for the upcoming Town Meeting were brought up at this session, unlike at several other ARB meetings earlier this year. 

Jan. 21, 2024: Affordable-housing issues front and center at ARB meeting in early January

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Tony Moschetto was published Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.